Press conference in Mumbai: US execution chambers want Indian drugs to kill their prisoners. Reprieve warns of the risks

December 9, 2011

Investigator Maya Foa, representing the UK legal charity Reprieve, has come to India urgently to warn pharmaceutical companies of deceptive practices being used to implicate them in lethal injections in America.

WHO: Maya Foa, Reprieve; Vijay Hiremath, Centre for Access to RightsWHAT: Press conference on the use of Indian drugs in US executionsWHERE: Mumbai Press ClubWHEN: 15:30, Friday 9 December

Domestic shortages of execution drugs mean the US is now seeking supplies abroad. Sodium thiopental is not used for medical purposes in the US, and the last remaining American manufacturer of the drug pulled out of the market in January. US prisons are now looking to foreign manufacturers to provide drugs to fuel their execution chambers.

This is a purely exploitative move on the part of the American executing states: the US has everything to gain and the Indian manufacturer everything to lose. The drugs are very cheap so there is no financial profit to be made. Each execution takes just 5 grams, costing no more than 175 rupees, with only perhaps 40 executions a year: the entire market is worth no more than 7,000 rupees, or $130 per annum. This is the reason no US company makes the drug – it is off patent and no longer worthwhile.  Meanwhile, the cost to a company’s reputation – not to mention the cost of human lives – is unthinkably high.

The US first went to Europe. The negative publicity to one company, Dream Pharma, caused it great commercial loss.  Another company implicated in what came to be seen as the “death drug” scandal, Lundbeck, saw its corporate image plummet fifty percent in a week, provoking divestment by some of its shareholders.

Last month, Indian manufacturer, Naari, became the latest victim of the US execution drug scramble. Acting on behalf of the executing states, an Indian purchaser, Chris Harris, represented that Naari’s drugs were going to Zambia for medical use; instead, Harris diverted them to Nebraska prison for use in executions. Naari is committed to providing drugs which improve the health and lives of patients all over the world; they are ‘horrified’ that the US wants to use their drugs to end lives instead and have initiated legal action in Nebraska to force the return of their drugs.

The deception inflicted on Naari not only threatens the good name of a respected company, but also undermines efforts to ensure that medicines reach countries where they are urgently needed to save lives, such as in Africa. 

Reprieve is now meeting with government officials, pharmaceutical companies, lawyers and human rights organisations in India to find ways to prevent the Indian pharmaceutical market from being forced to collaborate in executions in the US against their will.

For further information please contact Maya Foa:

ENDS Notes to editors 1. For further information, please see the Lethal Injection Investigation page on Reprieve’s website, or contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office on +44 (0) 207 427 1082 / +44 (0) 7791 755 415

2. Read a full briefing on the US-Indian lethal injection drugs trade.3. Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives.  Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 15 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, assisting over 70 prisoners facing the death penalty around the world, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’